The Sower – how bad theologies delay the Kingdom

The parable of the Sower as a critique of church and theology?  I was surprised at how easily one might use the text to implicate varieties of Gospel-preachers rather than Gospel-hearers.

“…some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them…” (Mt 13:4)

Listen again to those words, and hear Jesus saying, “Anyone preaching a Kingdom that sounds like humdrum or humbug might just as well be pitching birdseed on the Roman road” – the issue in this verse is lack of understanding, a problem which implicates teachers as well as students whenever man-made doctrines lack the flavor of Christ’s spirit, and come off spiritually or morally flat or unintelligible – and therefore misunderstood.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil…” (13:5)

Can it be that Jesus is saying, “On the other hand, if you use emotional hooks to frighten or entice the people with threats of Hell or promises of cheap grace, you are no better than the hardpan farmer who will not plow” – the issue here is lack of depth, and this implicates teachers as well as students if emotional appeals have cultivated shallow joyous puppets who are unprepared for the very tests of doubt and persecution in which their Savior must come to meet them.

“Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up…” (13:7)

Which is to say: “And it is just as big a mistake to pitch my own sublime cares and delights in terms which resemble too much the cares of the world and its delights” – the issue here is confusion of realms, and this implicates teachers as well as students where preaching strives to resemble the everyday wisdom of the world in so many ways that the Kingdom is confused for the world and the spirit is choked by unspiritual meanings and values.

Born from above? – or just born again?

Some born-again Christians of my acquaintance remind me of “Agent Smith.”

They can tell me the date and place of their conversion.  But I get the feeling they have been simply born again in a form which is just a replication of their old self – plus a self-righteous smile or a judgmental frown.

American psychologist of religious education, George Albert Coe (1862-1951) wrote of the distinction between being born again and being born from above in his 1902 book, Religion of a Mature Mind.

The simplicity of the Christian life-principle has been obscured by … the employment of “born again” to represent Greek terms whose plain, literal meaning is “born from above” (John 3:3).  The disciple of Christ is one who is born from above.  That which is of the flesh is flesh, and that which is of the spirit is spirit.  The root-contrast here is not between what is before and what is after, but between a higher and a lower…  Our English “born again” has promoted and kept alive a misunderstanding closely parallel to that of Nicodemus (John 3:9).

The merely ‘born again’ date everything from an heroic past effort to throw off some single ‘secret sin’ or gross vice.  Their old victory has left them relieved but basically unbroken.  Unbroken because they interpret their moment of truth as a trade-off of sin-for-salvation. With this kind of trade-off the principle transaction is complete, and there is no pressure to seek a relation to the life that is from above until the life here below is over.  Instead of relation to God in Christ the merely born-again begin a relation to doctrine.  Doctrines like election and predestination, for example, which offer rationales for a low-octane religion supported by a poorly conceived idea of ‘perseverance’ unto salvation.

We have been looking for events and disputing about processes.  We have caused men to ask themselves, “Have I been born again? Am I sure that an event has taken place?” whereas, we should have pressed home to them the sharp contrast between a spiritual and an unspiritual content or quality of life.   What am I, qualitatively considered? Am I living the life that is from above, or that which is from below?  In the absence of the heavenly quality in the life, no experience of internal wonders is valid evidence of the birth from above. On the other hand, if I am really on the side of Christ, I am born from above, however this comes to be the state of my mind. (Ibid)

The Christian who finds no birth from above in the moment of grace gets a heart ‘born again’ as a carbon copy of his old heart, the old self, the old man – except with an urge to convince others of its own self-justifying theology (instead of the gospel of Jesus).

The habit of looking for newness instead of for heavenly quality works confusion in two directions.

First, persons who are able to answer the question of dates to their own satisfaction, meet the temptation to substitute a “has been” for an “is.” They estimate themselves by something other than the present fact; they would turn the mill with the water that is past. Something of vital power must always be lost when the spiritual life is measured by anything whatever except its own content and its fruits.

Persons of a different make-up suffer from the opposite error. Desiring to dedicate themselves to the Master, yet unable to put their experience of spiritual realities into the forms of book-keeping, they hesitate, postpone action, are harassed by doubts of their personal status. They, too, ask themselves “Have I been?” when they should rather ask “Am I?” They need to be told that whosoever prefers above all things that for which God gave us his Son, and Jesus gave his life, is born from above. The fundamental preference is decisive as to the inner quality, and the fruits are decisive as to the vigor of the inner life.

These mere born-agains will go to church often and be watching out for the 10 commandments in everybody’s life, but underneath they haven’t changed much.  As if they have the idea that living faithfully is just staying ‘judgmental’ toward themselves and others.  They may smile more often than before, but you can catch them in a big frown just as easily.

Professor George Albert Coe was born in Mendon, NY, March 26 1862 ; educated at the University of Rochester (A. B.), Boston University (S. T. B., Ph. D.) studied at University of Berlin, 1890-1891; professor at Northwestern University 1893-1909, Union Theol. Seminary, 1909-22, Columbia 1922-27.  Dr. Coe retired in 1927 and died November 9, 1951.

Apocalypse now and then

I have absolutely no doubt that warnings about a day of the Lord scheduled for May 21 of this year are false. In fact, somebody who was as sure as I am that this preacher is making a bad call would need to have a vision of his own on the matter.  All right then.

Except my vision doesn’t grant me a view of the future; it gives me hindsight into the past – and I most solemnly warn you that the end of the first Christian dispensation has already happened.

I cannot account for the fact that this is still old news; perhaps others are too cowardly to come forward.  But I know those ‘others’ wouldn’t be the Pope or the Archbishops of any denomination – they were never told. No Synod or any other conference of churches had a clue.  And forget about the Evangelicals and the Jews – God can’t tell them anything any more.

I claim no knowledge of specific dates, but only a kind of ballpark figure.  But what I’m seeing is that, at some point during or shortly after the First World War, God very quietly and unequivocally wrote off the old Christian dispensation as ‘not good enough’ for his Son.  Believe me.

NO, I’m not talking about the alleged Apocalypse called by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for the year 1914 – that was no different than this latest 2011 deal – a makeshift built on Daniel’s well-known figure of 1260 and other textual cyphers.  Funny how it always comes down to these numbers in Daniel, and it’s always wrong.  It was just a lucky hit for the Witnesses that they came up with a year in which a World War started.  But the excitement ended for them on January 1, 1915, when it became evident God was featuring nothing more spectacular than the destruction of Christian civilization. The mistake was soon forgotten; membership was up, they moved on.

But for God this was a big thing.  Again, I can’t pin-point the year for you, but ‘the End’ of the old Christian dispensation was brought down in unheralded despair and gloom during one of those crazy, shifting, catastrophic years between those two monstrous secular conflagrations (WWI and WWII).  After a near-total failure by the Christian leadership to stand by the Gospel of Jesus in the summer of 1914, the Reformation gospel  was out on the dung heap with the Pope’s tiara as far as God was concerned.

Meanwhile God’s life goes on in temples not made with hands…  but those external, sectarian forms of Christianity we see ‘still rolling along’ are moving not by the grace of God any more but only by virtue of an original divine impetus – the same kind of motion a long train would exhibit on a very gentle but steady backwards downgrade after being decoupled from its engine.

The plan was not for Christianity to go away (clearly) but God definitely wanted a new model, a second dispensation, with an effective peace testimony and an end to the awful man-made creeds which had been mistaken for faith and only got in the way of his Son’s offer of love and salvation to all who sought him in spirit and in truth (God’s still waiting).

Karl Barth saw Christmas the way I do (almost)

Found this from Karl Barth in a quote from a book entitled Christmas posted by blogger ajmoyse :

“The man who is God’s own Word, does not send forth His radiant light from afar, encountering the “darkness” of other men as a king, hero or sage; but the Light that “shines in the darkness” is an ordinary man and gives light to ordinary people. This is incomprehensible, and yet because of it revelation is real and the Christmas gospel is quite different from both the sweet sadness and the false optimism of mere reverie. The Word of God is where we ourselves are, not where we should perhaps like to be, on one of those heights to which by some luck and strong effort we might attain; He is where we really are, whether we are king or beggar, in our torn condition in which we who face death appear–in the “flesh” …

 (Karl Barth. “The Word Made Flesh,” In Christmas. Translated by Bernard Citron. [Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1959], pp. 12-13.)

I was gratified that so high an authority has understood the ‘Christmas’ side of divine Incarnation as I tried to articulate it in my last post.

More Barth:

“Therefore the Word can give power to real people in the world, to become the sons of God. Therefore real people can accept Him and believe in Him… He does not appear in the form of an angel nor of an ideal man (how can anyone who is not as real as we are, address us?) but as Paul writes, in “the form of a servant” ( Phil. II.7), so that we who ourselves exist in this form, are able to hear Him. He encounters the riddle of our “darkness” on its own ground.” (Ibid)

However, Professor Dr. Barth, in his usual way, cannot go very long before attempting to move his theology along purely by means of a rhetorical flourish – and I find my agreement mixed with disagreement.   By a very strange leap of thought Barth attempts to force Golgotha into the Nativity picture as if the two were inextricably joined:

“We can sum up these comments in this way: Revelation
remains revelation by which the veil of divine mystery is
rent. In other words, except we see the Cross of Golgatha,
we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem.” (Ibid)

I reject this little tour-de-force (one which I hear all the time from evangelicals at Christmas time).  I do see the similarities between the humility of the nativity and the humility of the cross.  But this kind of similarity is only the stuff of good homiletics and cannot support valid theological inferences.

I think the ‘wish’ to see Golgotha at Bethlehem is  incompatible with a full acceptance of the pre-baptism life and the pre-Calvary Gospel of Jesus.   Barth obviously doesn’t agree.  So I’ve got some explaining to do (later).

Justification (or not): Can ‘classical’ views be unbiblical?

All of the fall-out from the ETS Atlanta meeting last week was a great clinic for me on new and old perspectives on Justification.  My blog reading since Friday includes numerous posts by Marc Cortez, especially his final reflections.  Also the thoughts of Collin Hansen.  And N.T. Wright checked in with clarifying comments at Denny Burk’s site.

Meanwhile I’m reading Paul again, and Wright’s 2006 paper, ‘Redemption from the new perspective?’, but am still far from answering a question that intrigues me in all this discussion – Do Evangelicals have an unwillingness to address the complexity of all the Biblical evidence for justification?  If such selectivity exists, I am inclined to suspect it may be explained as the result of a close association in the evangelical’s mind between a particular theory of justification and the alleged ‘facts’ of his own conversion experience.  It’s common enough in the sciences that an interpretation of one’s own experience can (temporarily) prevent one from seeing contradictory evidence.

I find that, 130 years ago, some similar and allegedly ‘classical’ Protestant interpretations of justification were called out by Albrecht Ritschl as ‘unbiblical’ assumptions:

It is unbiblical to assume that between God’s grace or love and His righteousness there is an opposition, which in its bearing upon the sinful race of men would lead to a contradiction, only to be solved through the interference of Christ.  The righteousness of inexorable retribution is not in itself a religious conception, nor is it the meaning of the righteousness which in the Old and New Testaments is ascribed to God.  God’s righteousness is His self-consistent and undeviating action in behalf of the salvation of the members of His community; in essence it is identical with His grace.  Between the two, therefore, there is no contradiction needing to be solved.

It is unbiblical to assume that any one of the Old Testament sacrifices, after the analogy of which Christ’s death is judged, is meant to move God from wrath to grace.  On the contrary, these sacrifices rely implicitly upon the reality of God’s grace toward the covenant people, and merely define certain positive conditions which the members of the covenant people must fulfill in order to enjoy the nearness of the God of grace.

It is unbiblical to assume that the sacrificial offering includes in itself a penal act, executed not upon the guilty person, but upon the victim who takes his place.  Representation by priest and sacrament is meant not in any exclusive, but in an inclusive sense.  From the fact that the priest draws near to God when he brings near the gift it is not meant that because the priest and the sacrifice come near to God, the others may remain at a distance from God…

Lastly, it is unbiblical to assume that a sacrifice has its significance directly for God, and only under certain other conditions also for men.  On the contrary, the sacrificial act is just what combines these two relations.”

Justification and Reconciliation, Vol. III (1874; 3rd 1888, ET 1900), p.473-74

Simon Peter – Man and myth

Kevin at Diglotting put up a book give-away offer that has my interest: Peter – the Myth, the Man, and the Writings, by Fred Lapham (2004).

The apostle Peter has already come up for criticism on this blog as one of my special NT problems.

I currently judge Simon Peter as chiefly responsible for the wrong-headedness which introduced error into the early kerygma.  Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-41), in my view, twisted the evangelism of Jesus in a way which eventually submerged the Galilean gospel of grace beneath the new church’s post-resurrection news-for-Jews:  Repent before the crucified and very angry and very soon to be returning Jewish Messiah brings down the whole age on your heads in the manner depicted by your apocalyptic writers.

It was this ill-considered sermon of Peter which, in my view, changed history for the worse by fomenting all the distracting ‘success’ of fear-based evangelical preaching.  Peter channeled the enthusiasm of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem into the first Judeo-Christian megachurchagogue (Acts 2:40-42) of the type which now proliferate in places like Texas.

From that point the progress of the Holy Spirit was ‘in check’ until it made two key moves:

(1) to go out ‘in person’ and turn Paul (Acts 9), and then

(2) to speak sense to Peter (a thing which required that the Apostle be semi-conscious – Acts 10) in order to loosen him up and get him over to Caesarea to witness God’s real plan in action (Acts 10:34-45).

The damage was already done to the kerygma, but at least Paul was inspired enough by the news from Caesarea (Acts 11:18-26) to take the mission out to the whole world (Acts 13ff).

Maybe Lapham’s book will cool me off a bit 🙂

The ‘great commission’ – success or failure?

If the church was given a divine commission – a worldwide mission and apostolate – how can we call it a success?  And if Christianity has failed to characterize the spiritual life of much of today’s world, how can that be a divine result – isn’t it more likely to be a human result?  Shouldn’t we be asking whether the church has either misunderstood the divine intent of its commission, or  the gospel itself (or both)?  Here then is an opportunity for a little prayer and reflection.

Back in June I wrote a brief intro to a theory of missions after reading Nate Kerr’s provisional theses on Kingdom-World-Church over at Inhabitatio Dei.  My tastes in ecclesiology didn’t extend my interest to more than 2 or 3 or the 13 theses, so I didn’t contribute to the long discussion there, although I got myself into some trouble defending a point of the article over at AUFS (link not available here).

Anyway, I am obliged to Nate and friends for introducing me to the work of Johannes Christiaan Hoekendijk (1912-1975), whose book (The Church Inside Out, 1965) has helped me find my way to valuable points of scripture and useful criticisms of traditional concepts of mission.

In my June post I made the following observation:

“Apostles, ambassadors, messengers, envoys, heralds, missions, embassies – all these concepts I find applicable to the vocabularies of both the Church’s mission and to diplomatic endeavors.  Whereas they do not resonate at all with the vocabularies of temple, army, school, cult, recruitment, confession, etc., etc.”

Hoekendijk, p.21:

“The Messiah is the prince of shalom (Isa 9:6), he shall be the shalom (Micah 5:5), he shall speak shalom unto the heathen (Zech 9:10)… In the New Testament, God’s shalom is the most elementary expression of what life in the new aeon actually is.  Jesus leaves shalom with his disciples – ‘Shalom I leave with you, my shalom I give unto you’ (John 14:27), and the preaching of the apostles is summarized as ‘preaching shalom through Jesus Christ’” (Acts 10:36).

Again, from my June post:

“the mission [constitutes us] envoys of peace to the whole world and everyone in it.  The rationale is that, since Pentecost, every human being may through faith access the protection and ’good offices’ of the spirit, as citizens and subjects [through Christ]…”

Last night I found this in Paul (Eph. 2:17-19):

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we… are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”

Two things.  First, I am not talking about a ‘Peace of God’ whose announcement by missionaries would induce the world’s war-makers to convert their spears into ploughshares without further argument. Second, I am not talking about a universal Peace of God which entails capitulation to the world’s evil.

What, then?  Well there’s more.

How faith in Jesus can trump faith in scripture

“Our aim in the present study is to show that Jesus did not expect a speedy and supernatural destruction of the world.” (Lily Dougal and Cyril Emmet, The Lord of Thought, from the Preface, dated Sept. 1922).

At the time of their writing, these two New Testament critics were very much alarmed at a growing bias in NT criticism.  “It is now widely held that the whole thought of Jesus was governed by the belief that the end of the world was very near, or, at least, that this belief was a confusing element in his outlook.”  Of course the authors were discussing a 15-year trend inaugurated by Albert Schweitzer’s 1906 book, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (The Quest of the Historical Jesus).

Schweitzer had claimed that the teaching of Jesus is inconsistent with itself except when everything is viewed from the perspective of a thorough-going eschatological frame of mind.  Except the problem with his view is that it makes Jesus inconsistent with reality – because some scripture texts make Jesus wrong about the proximity of the end, and his return in glory.

Dougal and Emmet agree with Schweitzer that the eschatological teachings attributed to Jesus are inconsistent with his higher teachings, but they reject Schweitzer’s means of achieving consistency for Jesus.  Schweitzer, they argue, has only created his own false pattern of consistency in Jesus teaching, “by forcing upon all his sayings and parables an interpretation in harmony with the more fanatical Judaism of his time.”  (p.2)

They offer a solution which can only alienate both fundamentalists and moderns:

“Considering the circumstances in which the Gospels were compiled, it is more becoming for us, in the first instance, to suspect the records of inaccuracy than to assume that the inconsistency lay with Jesus.” (p.9)

I’m fine with the authors’ rejection of plenary inspiration.  Trouble is, they imply a new principle which skeptical critics are sure to hate – the principle of an inerrant Jesus  But I like it! 

“In the history of any one of the canonized Christian saints, when sayings and acts are attributed to him or her which to us appear inconsistent and unworthy, our first proceeding is to suspect the accuracy of the narrator … on the hypothesis that the inspiration of the saint for goodness and wisdom was greater than the inspiration for accuracy enjoyed by the disciple.” (p.7-8)

Seriously, a hermeneutic principle like inerrant Jesus is unapologetically faithful – only it requires that our faith in the perfection of Jesus trumps our belief in the perfection of scripture.  There’s bound to be difficulty discriminating the inerrancy of Jesus from the inaccuracy of apostles and gospel writers.  But the result for eschatology is an important one – the axiomatic rejection of a merely human Jesus who is either self-contradictory or  a fanatic and delusional Jew yields refreshing fruit in a healthy critical skepticism regarding all assertions or allusions in scripture which suggest that a destructive end-of-the world scenario is a necessary adjunct to the true Gospel.

Mark’s gospel: a Good-news/Bad-news day for God

In my last post I quoted Dr. Vincent Taylor’s fine commentary on Mark, joining him in praise of the strokes by which the evangelist captured the complex and edgy person of the divine-human Son of God.  But there are also difficulties in Mark.  There are inadequacies in Mark, causes of perplexity, scandal and stumbling which engender further questions, questions about the birth and early life, about the lack of spiritual teachings, or whether anything substantial happened after the women found the empty tomb.

Do angels sing when the acts of a fallible human mind establish for all time such a history as Mark has made of the divine mission of the Word?

On the positive side, it cannot be denied that Mark’s story evokes a genuine sense of apostolic experience of an Incarnate Savior.  Mark’s framework of events was barely challenged by later writers, indicating that few in a fast-disappearing generation knew of a better.  And the passion narrative seems to have been a piece of his original territory.

Still, neither Jesus nor his apostles had (in 40 years) ‘put up’ any generally-accepted and authoritative text (even such a seminal text as the Sermon on the Mount seems not to have been known at Rome at the time of Mark’s writing).  There is a sense in which Mark broke this 40-year ban on written histories of the Word of God.

Mark makes available his invaluable material truth regarding the divine Son, but at the same time he casts into the world a Divine Antithesis, a ‘corpus’ a textual God of the letter, engendering other texts.  I think it has been the tendency of these texts to both release and to limit the power of the Divine Son.  But I am inclined to view a God-of-text as ultimately a negation of divinity, not to be worshipped.  The living God is real, shaping us in his image, but the textual God is a creation of human mind, a god shaped in our own image.

The human mind seems to crave escape from the obligations posed by the invitation of spirit to join it in real and living relationship – and it finds this escape in the relative safety of second-hand, imitative religious forms.  This retreat to creedal and textual forms is a kind of apotheosis of rejected mercy.  Since Pentecost the Spirit and the Son have been offered stubborn resistance by this human god (the text) which was ‘thrown’ into our finitude as a god of the ‘old ways,’ born from below.

I’m taking a stand on this one (Luke 17:21) – updated

“The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Commentators on these words of Jesus in Luke 17:21 are almost unanimous in expressing their disbelief that Jesus intended the literal meaning of his words “within you” to apply to the small group of Pharisees to whom he was speaking.  But since when did a commentator’s incredulity alone constitute adequate exegesis?  It sounds to me more like they are refusing to hear what Jesus is saying.  And as I reported in an earlier post, variant translations for this particular Greek phrase which render the English as ‘in your midst’ or ‘among you’ are not found in any other Biblical text whatsoever.  By contrast, “within you, in your hearts” has the authority of Ps. 38:4, 108:22, 103:1, Isa 16:11, Dan 10:16, Ecclus. 19:23.

Yesterday I commented on a post by a Christian blogger who was trying to mount an argument against the literal meaning of this text from Luke.  I’ve seen this kind of attack before on Luke 17:21, and it happens to be a matter of prime importance to me, so I’m taking a stand for its literal meaning.

But what makes it so hard for my fellow Christians to accept a teaching of Jesus which extends the blessings of God’s presence even to his enemies?  Are they really listening to Jesus?  And anyway, which of Jesus’ so-called friends has completely escaped temptation and rebellion?  If we find that the spirit of God dwells with patient love in all such men and women, even in the face of their misunderstanding and antipathy, it is not impossible, I think, to have faith that this patient spirit also waits within all mankind.

Of high and difficult commands

The religious commands and injunctions found scattered throughout the sacred books of the Jews are generally admitted to be of very uneven spiritual value.  Many represent interpretations of divine expectations which are ‘all too human’ – more revealing as examples of anthropology than of theology. From a theologian’s perspective, however, the many primitive and unspiritual ideas found in those ancient books are far outweighed (though not outnumbered), by a few inspired concepts which I think exhibit a spiritual acumen as high as any known in all the literature of religions.

What is more, I notice that some of the most high (and most demanding) OT exhortations were ascribed also to Jesus.  For example, Mat 6:48:

“You therefore shall be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”

appears to be the Gospel upgrade for the earlier divine command which in the Torah introduces the ancient ‘Holiness Code’ in Lev 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”

The divine Son puts an interesting new spin on the old, but I don’t see where his innovation has lessened its tough (seemingly impossible) requirement.  What he has done is to render the statement harder to misinterpret as a kind of guarantee of holiness in a person or group simply by dint of their covenantal association with God – an error which might lead one to brand all outside the covenant as unholy, as goyim.

As for the implied difficulty of following this divine injunction, I like the midrash offered by C.S. Lewis, which has Jesus saying:

‘Make no mistake; … if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect-until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’   – Mere Christianity, from Chap 31 ‘Counting the Cost’

The Church as embassy between kingdoms

The discussion of 13 theses on the church and the world, posted by Nathan Kerr et al, at Inhabitatio Dei, got my attention yesterday and today. I want to put something up here at home to keep me in mind of issues which seem compelling to me. One is the work of Johannes Christiaan Hoekendijk, whose book, Church Inside Out (ET 1965) is, I see, waiting for me at the seminary library. Kerr cites Hoekendijk as follows:

“World (kosmos/oikoumene) and Kingdom are correlated to each other; the world is conceived as a unity, the scene of God’s great acts: it is the world which has been reconciled (II Cor. 5:19), the world which God loves (John 3:16) and which he has overcome in his love (John (16:33); the world is the field in which the seeds of the Kingdom are sown (Matt. 13:38)—the world is consequently the scene for the proclamation of the Kingdom.” (pg. 41)

I have been looking for a chance to develop an idea of church and mission under categories of diplomacy – a divine embassy – wholly in the kingdom of this world, but here in the name of ‘he who reigns’ in the next or higher kingdom.  The ‘mission’ is that of being envoys of peace to the whole world and everyone in it.  The rationale is that, since Pentecost, every human being may (through faith) access the protection and ‘good offices’ of the Spirit as citizens and subjects of a spiritually transcendent realm.  Hmm.

True, it’s a bit of a stretch from Hoekendijk – not to mention from Kerr and his friends.  I’m just jotting some notes here.  But here in Kerr’s “Thesis 2,” for example, I think I may find something to hang my hat on:

The church’s primary task is apostolic. The church exists as a function of Christ’s own singular apostolicity; that is, its existence is a matter of its participation in Christ as the “sent one” (Heb 3:1). “The church has no other existence than in actu Christi, that is, in actu Apostoli” (Hoekendijk). The church thereby exists to serve the ministerium Verbi incarnati (Barth)—the church’s share in the apostolicity of Christ consists in its being sent out by the power of the Spirit to proclaim the euangelion of Jesus Christ to the world. In this sense, the church’s “priority” with regards to the world is that of a distinctively apostolic precedence.

Apostles, ambassadors, messengers, envoys, heralds, missions, embassies – all these concepts I find applicable to the vocabularies of both the Church’s mission and to diplomatic endeavors.  Whereas they do not resonate at all with the vocabularies of temple, army, school, cult, recruitment, confession, etc., etc.

To be continued.

Fear of dining alone – proof we are made for the Gospel?

This weekend my wife traveled out of state with members of her family for a niece’s graduation. I have avoided these graduation trips from the start, and this year I successfully dodged my obligation once again (though not without blame – and a little guilt).

The 48 hours alone were fine except for one thing. I cannot abide eating alone.

Breakfast? No problem.  I’m the early riser in the family, and I am long accustomed to a quick solo breakfast, with a book to read.  The emptiness of a solo lunch or dinner, however, I cannot stand. How do other people stand it? Both of our widower fathers admit to leaving their TV sets on at meals – to fill the air with human conversation during their lonely repasts.  For me it always comes down to a book or a good magazine – at one solo meal this weekend I tried music. Not bad.

But the fact that I have access to distractions does not change the fact that without them I feel very raggedly disconnected with my higher self when dining alone.  Eating is an act I find to be a very desolate, very mechanical, almost senseless affair – almost like a force-feeding – when I do it unaccompanied by another human being.

Not to prolong this – I think there is something interesting lying at the root of this feeling of desolation I get when dining alone. I can feel in my angst a primal anthropological fact about our humanity and about the interesting rites which surround our human institutions of table fellowship.

Less feasible – but no less interesting – is the possibility that the Son, in his varied table ministry (i.e. both before and after the Passion meal), consciously utilized the power latent in the feast of fellowship to convey to us the communal bedrock of his good news of forgiveness and fellowship with God.  If Jesus was himself cognizant of the anthropological fact, it makes sense that he decided to spend so much time eating and drinking with sinners while on mission. As I suggested in a previous post, maybe that was the mission.

Why did the Word of God refuse to leave anything in text?

In a previous post I hinted at the tremendous theological depth I saw in a single very simple assumption about Jesus of Nazareth – a very pedestrian, un-theological assumption – that he was able to read and write his mother tongue.

The assumption of a basic functional literacy for Jesus makes a very unspectacular human claim – one which requires no miracle, no mysterious wisdom, no superhuman power.  Literacy was a skill set that was a credible attainment for any first-born Jew of the age (as professor Craig A. Evans has shown – see the earlier post).

The historian might ask, “If Jesus could read and write, why don’t we have any of his writing?”  And I think too many historians hold this question to be an unanswerable proof that Jesus was illiterate.  However, it is just this lack of writing by Jesus that I find so theologically deep when taken in conjunction with a supposition that he could both read and write:  What if the Word of God, when incarnate, had been perfectly able to render his purpose, his idea, his gift, his teaching, his gospel, under the discursive form of an authoritative text – but determined not to do so?  Would this tell us anything about the divine attitude toward textual authority?

Nothing requires us to follow the historians who account for Jesus’ lack of writing by suggesting an illiterate ‘rustic’ teacher (of astonishing wisdom).  For if we choose to see instead a deliberate decision against leaving such a sensitive artifact as an actual text, we may still join the historians in asking, Well indeed, why didn’t such a man leave any writings?   However, by laying aside the picturesque assumption of illiteracy, we open up possibilities which tend to move the discussion away from dependence upon alleged Galilean literacy rates and in the direction of dependence upon divine will and divine wisdom.